In this thought provoking video from PBS Digital’s The Art Assignment, the team takes on the complicated messages around beauty in art. They do a good job of looking at it from multiple angles, linking theories from the past and fitting those theories into the modern day.
It got me thinking about how one of my tenets for visual essays is beauty. That was a tough one for me. I spent many years being a young art snob, turning my nose up at aesthetically pleasing work because beauty was too easy, not rigorous, built for the masses. Why would I, a stalwart defender of “good” taste, fall into such an easy trap?
As I got older, it didn’t bug me so much. I was drawn to beauty after many years of trying to make rigorous (aka ugly) things. I learned that ugly is a shortcut to rigor and I should be equally suspicious of ugly as I was of beauty. Finally, I embraced beauty with visual essays.
Notice I do not define what beauty is, but if I had to, I’m going to guess what I mean is some combination of elegance and whatever is “cool” right now. I know – it’s despicable.
But not all beauty is the same, just as I pointed out earlier in this blog when I said not all ugly is the same. And if my definition of beauty is temporal and dependent on the moment, then so was my preference in what constitutes good taste. After watching this episode of The Art Assignment, I realized my desire for beauty in visual essays is a phase and a response to what came before. Don’t get me wrong, though – to say it’s a phase does not mean it’s unimportant or shallow. Rather, it’s an essential part of life and a required part of growing as an artist. As the dictionary describes it, a phase is:
A distinct period or stage in a process of change or forming part of something’s development.
I’m forming. I’m learning. That’s all. Phew!
Visual essays don’t have to be beautiful. They just need to be you, right now.